Last week, for the first time ever, I had jury duty. I was part of a group of twelve random strangers who, over three days, made a decision which largely determined the length of a young man’s jail term, changing it from a matter of six to twelve years to two to three.
It was all a bit confronting, a detailed glimpse of a real life story which was entirely understandable, evoking plenty of empathy and more than a few quiet tears on my part. All viewed through two surreal lenses: the thoughts and feelings and daily trivia of eleven vague, bored, angry, sad, vindictive, uncomfortable, strangers, and the cold, impersonal, disinterested banality of the court staff, the barristers, and the judge himself.
I suppose I was fortunate to get such a brief, harmless case: Nobody was harmed or even particularly traumatised in the commission of the crime we were trying, and the whole case took three days. The jury drafted immediately before mine was for a supreme-court rape case expected to run for fifteen days!
Australia being a country with (mercifully) no compulsory military service, the idea of a compulsory period of service to the very wheels of government is unfamiliar and a bit strange, but I found it to be a real education: you’re forced to face a real crisis in one or more real lives, and make a decision of vast importance and significance. As a mere consulting sysadmin, many steps removed from important decision-making or the personal effects thereof, this was refreshing, and more than a little terrifying.
Talking about it with E, she remarked that her profession makes her more-or-less exempt from jury duty. Somehow that makes sense to me: If anyone faces real people in crisis and makes terribly important decisions on a daily basis, she does. However, for those who don’t share her chosen career, I think I can recommend jury duty: It’s a jolt to the system, a harsh clarity of perspective which really throws ones own life into proportion. It’s coming face-to-face with the rule of law we all take for granted every moment of our lives, shaking it by the hand, and walking away forever changed, and perhaps a little wiser.
I would not call it fun though.